The two church youth groups had similar missions — feed the families and entertain the kids — but the experiences could not have been any more different.
Both groups helped out at the local Ronald McDonald House on subsequent Saturday afternoons. The families there have children facing life-threatening illnesses who are being treated at a nearby children’s hospital.
Weekends are some of the loneliest moments for the families because there are typically no (or few) medical appointments for those who are not in the hospital. The days can be long without visitors or planned activities.
So organized groups coming in are always a welcome sight. And youth groups are especially exciting for the kids.
Of course, adult leaders tagged along with the youth groups, supervising the afternoon activities and evening meal. And both meals turned out to be very tasty.
The difference came in the interaction with the kids.
The first group was small in number but large in heart. Only a handful of young people helped out, and there was nothing fancy to their setup or delivery. Still they clicked well with the kids. They basically walked around engaging the children until a connection was made. From there, that student would play with the child the rest of the afternoon, even eating with him or her during the evening meal if the family OK’d it.
Lacking in heart
The second group was large in number but not so large in heart, at least as a whole. I noticed a few individuals who were trying to do more, but most of the group spent a great deal of time in a circle chatting and laughing with each other.
They did an amazing job setting the area up like a carnival, but few took time to man the booths. The few activities with a supervisor were fun for the kids, but the other activities were barely touched. Someone nearby would wave us off, saying, “Do whatever you want” when we approached the unmanned booths.
Most members of the group did not even try to interact with the kids, even though the kids tried to pull them into various activities. A few of the students were kind enough to go along with the activities at first, but they were looking to be rescued after a few minutes.
I saw several disappointed kids who picked up the vibes from this group quickly. And being a personality type who can’t sit by while such injustice takes place, I had to attempt to remedy the situation. After all, if you came here to minister to kids with cancer, then why are you in a huddle practicing your cheerleading moves or sitting around a table whispering with your backs to everyone else?
I wanted to be frustrated with the students, but as I looked for the adult supervisors I found them in huddles of their own.
So I started introducing children to members of the youth group and suggesting activities they could do together. Some of the youth cooperated but were stiff and barely spoke to the children. Others said they had other responsibilities, so they could not play with the kids. They would tell me this and then walk back over to a group and stand around and talk for 30 or 45 more minutes.
I have to believe this second group was the exception and not the rule, but it gave me a new appreciation for youth leaders who are teaching and modeling appropriate behavior and witness.
It also reminded me to be thoughtful and responsible about the roles we take on to “help” others. We should always make sure our motives are pure and that we are willing to truly participate — not just show up and say we did.
—Jennifer Davis Rash